Tucked beneath a towering peak, Phoenix Lake is the smallest jewel in a necklace of reservoirs that surround the leeward side of Mt. Tamalpais and serves as a great introduction to the network of hiking trails that crisscross the Marin Municipal Water District’s 147-square-mile watershed.
Snagging a good campsite among Bay Area redwoods is about as easy as getting a parking spot in North Beach. But head to Butano State Park and, with a little help from a hike, the odds swing heavily in your favor. Butano is a park less traveled, and a 5.5-mile hike-in leads to a sweet reward: a tranquil trail camp among redwood trees. Make your way by heading up lush Jackson Flats Trail and exposed Canyon Trail. It’s a bit of a climb, but the effort is worth the huff and puff. Butano’s Trail Camp was just cleaned spic-and-span by the Boy Scouts (they even added log tables to most of the sites). Most of the sites are the size of a studio apartment—but #8 is more like a two-bedroom!
If you're looking for the quintessential Northern California pocket beach, head to Marin's Pirate's Cove. Only accessible by a moderate 1.5 mile hike, this secluded haven of soft white sand is bookended by tall, rugged cliffs. And the coast-hugging trail you must take to get there is almost as spectacular as the cove itself. Starting from Muir Beach, you ascend a fire road for about three-quarters of a mile until you reach the crest of the trail, and then—wow! Your high vantage point (pictured) offers stunning views of the craggy coast all the way to Pacifica—and you'll spot the stretch of sand that's your destination. Pirate's Cove's privacy made it a great staging area for bootleggers in the 1920s.